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Quast v. Utah Labor Commission

Supreme Court of Utah

July 25, 2017

Rashell Quast, Respondent,
v.
Utah Labor Commission, University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Hospital, and Workers Compensation Fund, Petitioners.

         On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

          Hans M. Scheffler and Michael D. Karras, Sandy, for petitioners Workers Compensation Fund and University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Hospital.

          Jaceson R. Maughan, Salt Lake City, for petitioner Utah Labor Commission.

          Daniel F. Bertch and Kevin K. Robson, Salt Lake City, for respondent.

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Durham, and Judge Pettit joined.

          Having recused himself, Justice Pearce did not participate herein; District Court Judge Kara Pettit sat.

          OPINION

          HIMONAS, JUSTICE.

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶ 1 After a slip and fall at work, Rashell Quast petitioned the Utah Labor Commission for an award of permanent total disability compensation against her former employer, the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Hospital (Huntsman). Reversing the order of an administrative law judge (ALJ), the Labor Commission concluded that Ms. Quast had failed to make out a permanent total disability claim.

         ¶ 2 Ms. Quast sought judicial review of the Labor Commission's order from the Utah Court of Appeals, which set aside the Labor Commission's order and allowed the ALJ's award of benefits to Ms. Quast to stand. See Quast v. Labor Comm'n, 2015 UT App 267, 362 P.3d 292.

         ¶ 3 We granted certiorari and now reverse. Based on our analysis in Oliver v. Utah Labor Commission-a case we decide contemporaneously with this one-we hold that the court of appeals misinterpreted the permanent total disability statute's requirement that employees must prove that they suffer from an impairment that limits their ability to do basic work activities. 2017 UT 39, P.3d . Applying the correct interpretation, we find that substantial evidence supported the Labor Commission's determination, and we reverse the court of appeals. We also conclude that both the court of appeals and the Labor Commission misstated the burden of proof with respect to whether an employee seeking permanent total disability benefits can do other reasonably available work. Utah Code § 34A-2-413(1)(c)(iv).

         BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 On May 16, 2007, Ms. Quast was working as a hospital housekeeper at Huntsman when she slipped and fell on a wet floor, permanently aggravating a preexisting thoracic spine injury. After two surgeries (in 2008 and 2010), Ms. Quast filed a claim for permanent total disability benefits.

         ¶ 5 The parties submitted conflicting medical evidence. Some evidence apparently suggested that Ms. Quast was totally disabled. By contrast, Huntsman's medical consultant opined that Ms. Quast's only medical restrictions were that she "should not lift more than 20 pounds and should avoid repetitive flexion or extension of her spine."

         ¶ 6 Ms. Quast also underwent two functional capacity evaluations, administered in 2010 and 2012. These reflected that she had "full functional range of motion throughout her entire spine" and that she "tolerated repetitive forward reaching." They also indicated that Ms. Quast could lift up to twenty pounds and had the ability to do light work. The specialist who administered the 2012 evaluation noted ...


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